A 70-year-old grandmother became the first woman over the age of 70 to finish the 100-mile Western States ultramarathon over the weekend. Gunhild Swanson of Spokane Valley, Washington just barely completed the grueling race with just six seconds to spare before the clocks shut off.
The two-day race, which spans many mountainous trails, has a 30-hour completion time limit and Swanson was the very last person to finish the race. But that didn't matter.
Swanson says she just wanted to finish. "I figured this would be my last chance to go for it, because as you know, when you get older, you get slower and things are just a little bit harder," she told The Huffington Post in an interview. She's been running races for more than half her life and this was her third time running this particular race. She ran it in her 50s and again when she was 60, beating the former record for a woman over 60.
But this time was a bit more taxing and she wasn't entirely sure she'd make it. "It wasn't until I was on the track and came around the curb and saw the finish clock with a few seconds left that I knew i could make it," Swanson said. "At that point I was sure. Before that, it was just hope and prayer and faith."
Swanson said the encouragement of her son and grandson kept her going, as they paced her. "Having them there with me was the experience of a lifetime." She was met at the finish line by many friends and family that came out to support her, but she was also greeted with the cheers of other well-wishers, encouraging her to go on.
After the race, the "sheer bliss of the accomplishment" was celebration enough as all she wanted was to get some rest. She says she won't be running this particular race again since it's so taxing, but is running another marathon in Hawaii later this year.
"I will continue running for as long as I can," she said. "It's my life. It's my lifestyle. It's what I do."